Tips for Staying Organized in College

Dominic Zijlstra
Dominic Zijlstra
Publish date
Jul 14, 2023


Crack! The sound of your pencil snapping under the weight of your frenzied note-taking echoes through the library. Your heart races as you frantically flip through a mountain of disorganized papers, searching for that one vital piece of information you need for your upcoming final. Sound familiar?
Welcome to the chaotic world of college studying, a place where disorganization can quickly turn your academic aspirations into a nightmare. But don't fret, it doesn't have to be this way.
Staying organized in college is more than just a nice-to-have skill; it can be the difference between success and failure. It's about reducing stress, improving academic performance, and developing skills that will serve you well beyond your college years.
In this guide, we'll share practical tips to help you stay organized in your academic journey. From setting up a calendar to digitizing your notes with innovative learning tools like Traverse, we've got you covered.
So, take a deep breath, and let's dive into a world where order reigns, and chaos is a thing of the past. The journey to a more organized college life starts here.

Why Is It Important to Stay Organized in College?

Mastering the art of organization is like finding the secret weapon to college survival. Not only does it help you navigate the academic battlefield, but it also prepares you for the professional world ahead. Let's delve into why staying organized in college is so crucial.

Reduce stress and anxiety

In the hustle and bustle of college life, stress and anxiety often become unwelcome companions. The reasons are many, from heavy workloads to poor sleeping schedules and insufficient downtime. However, poor time management is often a major contributing factor. Staying organized, thankfully, is one way to combat this.
Reports show that anxiety and stress are prevalent mental health issues among college students. And while better organizational skills won't eliminate these entirely, they can certainly help to reduce them. Studies show that staying organized can even help lower cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone in your body. So, by keeping your academic life in order, you're also taking a proactive step towards better mental health.

Improve academic success

Next up, your grades. Did you know that being organized can dramatically impact your academic success? A survey shows that better organizational skills and time management helped 87% of students improve their grades. That's nearly 9 out of 10 students!
Having a well-organized study plan lets you manage your time more efficiently, ensuring you're not cramming at the last minute or missing assignment deadlines. And with innovative tools like Traverse, which combines mind mapping, note-taking, and spaced repetition flashcards, mastering complex topics becomes easier and more enjoyable, leading to better understanding and retention.

Develop transferable skills

Finally, organization is a life skill that goes beyond the college years. It's a skill that employers greatly value. Being organized demonstrates that you can manage your time effectively, meet deadlines, and juggle multiple tasks – all of which are crucial in the professional world.
And the beauty of organizational skills? They're transferable. Whether you're managing a project at work, planning a trip, or even organizing a social event, these skills will come in handy. In essence, by honing your organizational skills in college, you're setting yourself up for success in all areas of your life.
In the next sections, we'll explore some practical tips to help you stay organized in college. From setting up a calendar to digitizing your notes with Traverse, we've got you covered.

Tip 1: Set up a Calendar

Having a tough time juggling a multitude of tasks and deadlines? Fret no more! One of the first lines of defense against the chaos of college life is setting up a calendar.

Use a Paper Planner or Calendar App

Whether you're a fan of traditional paper planners or prefer the convenience of digital tools, a well-maintained calendar can be your best ally in tracking important dates and staying on top of your schedule. You can go old-school with a physical planner, or join the digital side with apps like Google Calendar. But remember, the best kind of calendar is the one you will actually use and check regularly.

Input All Important Dates and Events

At the start of the semester, take some time to input all the important dates and events from your course syllabi. This might include assignment due dates, exam schedules, study group sessions, or any other crucial events. The goal is to have a visual overview of your entire semester, allowing you to plan better and avoid last-minute cramming.
Don't forget to also include personal events and appointments. This way, you can balance your academic, personal, and social life more effectively, avoiding conflicts and ensuring you have time for everything.

Set Up Reminders and Notifications

One of the major advantages of using a digital calendar is the ability to set up reminders. You can get notifications for important events before they sneak up on you. This way, you'll never miss a deadline or forget about a class.
Remember, staying organized is not about remembering everything, but rather about not having to remember everything. Let your calendar do the remembering for you!
If you're looking for a powerful tool to supercharge your learning and organization, check out Traverse. Not only does it offer connected note-taking, but it also incorporates mind-mapping and spaced repetition flashcards in one app to help you deeply grasp complex topics and remember for life. For the modern college student, a tool like Traverse can help you better manage your tasks and maximize your academic success.
Stay tuned for our next tip on using to-do lists to further boost your organization in college.

Tip 2: Use to-do lists

Prioritize tasks and break them down

Maximize your productivity by harnessing the power of to-do lists. This tool can be a game-changer when it comes to managing daily tasks and assignments. Start by prioritizing your tasks - putting the most important tasks first. This way, you ensure that you focus your energy on what truly matters, which can significantly boost your productivity and reduce stress.
An additional strategy is to break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. This approach not only makes the task seem less daunting but also motivates you to start working on it rather than procrastinating. In addition, it gives you a clear roadmap to follow, reducing the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed.

Use a digital system or bullet journal

In this digital age, you have the option to choose between a digital to-do list system or a more traditional bullet journal. A digital system like Traverse offers a feature-rich platform that can help you organize your tasks efficiently, with the added benefit of accessibility from anywhere. You can also set recurring tasks, making it ideal for regular activities such as weekly assignments or club meetings.
On the other hand, a bullet journal provides a tactile, personalized experience that some students prefer. You can design your journal to fit your unique needs and aesthetic preferences.
But remember, the best system is the one you will use consistently. So, choose the method that aligns with your preferences and lifestyle.

Regularly update and complete tasks

Creating a to-do list is only half the battle. The key to effectively using a to-do list is to regularly update it and, most importantly, complete the tasks you've set for yourself.
Try to review and update your list at the same time every day. This not only ensures that your list stays current but also helps you stay on top of your tasks and deadlines. When you complete a task, tick it off or cross it out. This simple act can provide a sense of accomplishment and motivate you to tackle the next task.
In conclusion, a well-managed to-do list can significantly enhance your organization and productivity in college. The more consistent you are with it, the more beneficial it will be. The next tip will further enhance your ability to stay organized by helping you establish a "realistic" schedule.

Tip 3: Stick to a "realistic" schedule

Imagine having a magical time machine that allows you to carve out extra hours in your day. Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Well, while we can't promise you a time machine, creating a realistic schedule is the closest thing to it. This strategy can help you boost your productivity and keep your college life organized.

Be honest and realistic with yourself

The first step to creating an effective schedule is honesty. Know your energy levels, your high productivity hours, and the times when you're just not at your best. For instance, if you're not a morning person, don't schedule early-morning study sessions. Instead, plan your study time when you're most alert and effective. This is not about changing who you are; it's about working with what you've got.

Consider your energy levels and preferences

As you craft your schedule, think about your personal preferences and energy levels throughout the day. If you're more productive working outside of your room, schedule your day with breaks that allow you to work in the library between classes. Moreover, remember to include buffer zones for unexpected events and relaxation time to recharge.

Stay consistent and increase productivity

Sticking to a schedule helps you stay consistent, increasing your productivity and reducing the risk of procrastination. Once you have your class schedule set, create a homework and study schedule. Consider when you're most productive and arrange study or homework blocks during that time. Using a planner, like the one offered by Traverse, can help you stay consistent. The platform allows you to organise your ideas, add notes, and even import directly from Anki, making it a great tool for managing your study schedule.
Moreover, on weeks with a lighter workload, use some time to get ahead on future assignments. By doing so, you are not only staying organized but also reducing future stress. It's all about creating a rhythm that works for you and sticking to it.
In the end, remember that it's not about creating a picture-perfect schedule, but about designing a realistic one that complements your natural rhythms and preferences. After all, the best schedule is the one you can stick to! Up next, we'll delve into the digital world and discuss the importance of keeping your notes organized.

Tip 4: Keep Your Notes Organized - Digitize

In the digital age, your pen and paper note-taking might need a bit of an upgrade. Digitizing your notes is the secret weapon for stress-free studying and achieving academic success.

Clear and Organized Notes for Studying

Taking notes is one thing; keeping them organized is a whole other ball game. In the whirlwind of college life, it's easy to lose track of important information buried under stacks of notebooks. Digitizing your notes not only saves you from this chaos but also enhances your studying efficiency. With clear and well-organized digital notes, you can easily locate key points, revise concepts, and prepare for exams without frantically flipping through pages.

Use Digital Note-Taking Methods

But how do you go about digitizing your notes? There are several ways. If you prefer typing, you can use a Google Doc or an advanced note-taking platform like Traverse. Traverse offers a unique approach to learning, allowing you to create mind maps, add notes, and even build flashcards for revision.
If you're more of a traditionalist and love the feel of pen on paper, don't worry. You can still go digital. Simply write your notes by hand, then use an app to photograph and transcribe your handwritten documents into digital copies. You can also consider using smart pens or a stylus on a touchscreen to directly digitize your handwritten notes.

Access Notes Anywhere and Anytime

One of the greatest benefits of digital note-taking is the ability to access your notes wherever you go. Forget lugging around heavy backpacks filled with notebooks. With your notes stored securely online, you can access them anytime, anywhere. This freedom not only lightens your physical load but also opens up more opportunities for studying. You can review notes while waiting for the bus, during a lunch break, or even just before hitting the sack.
Embracing digital note-taking can dramatically improve your college experience. It offers a streamlined, efficient, and flexible way to stay on top of your studies. So why not give it a shot? Your future self will thank you.

Tip 5: Keep Your Class Materials Organized

Be the master of your academic domain by organizing your class materials effectively. This not only keeps your study space tidy but also reduces the time you spend searching for notes or assignments. Here's how you can do it.

Group Materials by Class

One of the most effective strategies for staying organized is to group your materials by class. For each class, maintain a separate binder or pocket folder. This system keeps your notes, handouts, and completed tests and quizzes well-arranged and easy to locate. If you prefer digital organization, you can create folders for each term on your computer, with subfolders for each course. Within these course folders, create subfolders for notes, essays, and handouts. This method ensures that you can quickly find and access your digital documents when you need them.

Use Binders or Pocket Folders

Binders and pocket folders are your allies in the battle against disorganization. Use one binder or pocket folder for each class. This way, all your materials for a particular class are in one place, reducing the chances of misplacing important documents. If you're more of a digital person, consider using cloud-based platforms like Traverse to keep your class materials organized. They allow you to store and access your materials from any device, making studying on the go a breeze.

Color Code for Easy Organization

Color-coding is another effective way to stay organized. Using different colors for each class can help you quickly identify the materials you need. For instance, you can use blue for math, yellow for English, and so on. This method extends to your digital organization as well. In Traverse, for example, you can use color-coding to categorize your notes and resources, making them easier to locate when you need them.
By keeping your class materials organized, you can save precious time and reduce unnecessary stress. So, embrace these strategies and transform your college experience into a smoothly sailing journey.

Tip 6: Keep Your Study Space Tidy

Ever heard the saying, "A cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind?" It's an old proverb with a lot of truth behind it. Keeping your study space tidy is a crucial step in staying organized in college.

Clutter Causes Stress and Reduces Focus

When your desk is covered with scattered pens, piles of papers, and yesterday's coffee cups, it can make you feel overwhelmed. Psychological studies have shown that clutter can induce stress, as it presents excess visual stimuli and signals to our brains that we have unfinished tasks. This can make focusing on your studies quite challenging. In fact, it has been found that task performance in subjects with a tidy space was significantly better than those in disorganized ones.

Make Your Bed and Put Things Back in Place

Adopting simple daily habits can greatly contribute to maintaining a tidy space. Start your day by making your bed. This small task sets a positive tone for the day and can spur you on to accomplish more.
Next, ensure you put things back in their place after using them. This not only prevents your space from becoming messy but also makes it easier to find items when you need them.

Regularly Declutter and Organize Materials

Don't let old papers and unused materials pile up. Regularly going through your materials and discarding what you no longer need can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed by clutter.
Think of it as a monthly or weekly cleanse for your workspace. You can recycle old papers, donate unused materials, and rearrange your workspace for maximum efficiency.
To help you manage your digital clutter, consider using an app like Traverse which allows you to organize your ideas effectively on a digital mind map.
Remember, a tidy space leads to a tidy mind. By keeping your study space clean, you can enhance your focus, reduce stress, and increase your productivity. So, roll up your sleeves and get cleaning!

Tip 7: Prepare Your Tools for Class

You wouldn't show up to a soccer match without your cleats, would you? Likewise, attending your classes without the right tools in your arsenal is a recipe for disorganization and confusion. Let's delve into how you can prepare your tools for class and stay organized.

Use Fun and Colorful Organizational Tools

Adding a touch of color and fun to your study materials can make the task of organization more interesting. Using colorful binders, labels, highlighters, and sticky notes can not only make your study materials visually appealing but also help you differentiate between subjects and topics. This way, you can quickly find what you need even in the most hectic study sessions.

Color Code or Label Items by Class

Color coding is a game-changer when it comes to staying organized in college. Assigning a specific color to each class is an easy way to keep your materials in order. For example, you can use a blue binder for Math, a green one for English, and so on. By doing this, you save yourself the stress of picking up the wrong notebook for a class. You can also use labels for a similar purpose. Labels can be particularly useful for clearly identifying different sections within your binders or folders, such as notes, handouts, and completed tests.

Have a Case for Pens, Pencils, etc.

Have you ever found yourself frantically searching for a pen during an important lecture? To avoid such situations, it's a good idea to have a small case within your bag to put pens, pencils, highlighters, and other smaller items. This can save you time and keep your study materials organized.
Remember, being prepared is half the battle won. By organizing your tools effectively, you can ensure you have everything you need at your fingertips. This can play a significant role in reducing stress and increasing productivity. And if you're looking for a tool to keep your digital notes and ideas organized, check out Traverse. With its features like mind mapping and note-taking, it can be your digital companion in your journey towards academic success.

Tip 8: Avoid Interruptions When Studying or Working

Picture this: you're in the middle of a deep study session, and suddenly, your phone buzzes. A quick glance at the screen, and you're sucked into a vortex of notifications, social media updates, and texts. Sound familiar? It's a common scenario for many students but one that can severely disrupt your focus. In this section, we'll explore ways to minimize these distractions, establish a focused study routine, and incorporate restful breaks to keep your energy levels up.

Minimize Distractions Like Phones and TV

The first step in maintaining focus while studying is to reduce potential interruptions. This might involve turning off your phone or putting it on silent mode, keeping the TV off, and minimizing unnecessary Web browsing. Creating a distraction-free study zone can significantly increase your productivity. Remember, this includes your digital environment too. Apps like Traverse can help you maintain a clean and organized digital workspace, free from digital clutter.

Focus on Studies for at Least Two Hours

Once you've eliminated potential distractions, it's time to get down to business. Aim to focus solely on your studies for at least two hours. This may seem daunting at first, but you'll be surprised at how much you can achieve when you're fully focused.
During this period, use tools that enhance your concentration and comprehension. For instance, Traverse offers features like mind mapping, note-taking, and spaced repetition flashcards, which can help you deeply grasp complex topics and remember them for life.

Take Short Breaks for Rest and Energy

Remember, all work and no play can lead to burnout. Make sure to take short breaks after every focused study session. These breaks should be a time to rest, recharge, and maybe even catch up with the world.
Taking these steps will not only increase your productivity but also enhance your overall learning experience. So, say goodbye to distractions and hello to focused, effective study sessions!

Tip 9: Prepare for the next day

A stitch in time saves nine, as the old saying goes. This adage rings especially true when it comes to staying organized in college. Preparing for the next day is a crucial habit that can help you stay ahead of the curve and sail smoothly through your daily tasks.

Review syllabus and class materials

Just as a captain charts his course before setting sail, you should also review your syllabus and any class materials for the upcoming day. Use an app like Traverse to keep track of your assignments, readings, and project due dates. By reviewing these materials ahead of time, you can prioritize your tasks and plan your study time more effectively.

Plan outfits and meals ahead of time

Picture this: you wake up late, rush to throw on an outfit, and then realize you don't have any clean clothes. Or maybe you're starving in between classes but didn't have time to pack a lunch. Sounds stressful, right?
To avoid this, plan your outfits and meals the night before. This can save you precious time in the morning and help you start your day on a positive note. Plus, knowing you have a healthy meal ready to go can keep your energy levels steady throughout the day.

Reduce wasted time and avoid being late

By reviewing your schedule, packing your bag, and laying out everything you'll need for the next day, you can drastically reduce wasted time and the risk of being late. This not only decreases stress but also allows you to focus on what's important: your studies.
Remember, staying organized in college isn't about being perfect; it's about being prepared. And by preparing for the next day, you'll be setting yourself up for success. So, before you hit the hay, take a few moments to plan for tomorrow. You'll thank yourself in the morning!

Tip 10: Review your previous week and plan for the next

The key to staying organized isn't just about keeping your notes in order or your calendar updated, it's about continuously evolving your system and adapting it to your needs. The best way to do this is through a weekly review and planning process.

Reflect on successes and areas for improvement

Kick off your review by taking an inventory of the past week. Compare what you planned to achieve with what you actually accomplished. This will help you identify any gaps in your organizational system and give you an idea of where you can make improvements.
If you notice that you consistently fall short of your goals, it's time to ask yourself why. Perhaps, you're overestimating what you can achieve in a day or maybe you're getting frequently distracted. For instance, you might find that studying in the student center isn't working because you keep getting sidetracked by friends passing by. In such a case, finding a quieter place like the library might be a solution.
Remember, the goal here isn't to beat yourself up over what didn't go well. Instead, use this time to celebrate your wins, however small, and learn from the challenges.

Record tasks, insights, and productivity

Next, clean up your task management system. This could be a physical planner or a digital tool like Traverse. Check off tasks you completed and reschedule the tasks you didn't get to. This is also a good time to make note of any insights or ideas that came up during the week which could help improve your productivity.
In addition to tasks, take a look at your calendar. Remove irrelevant events or those that need rescheduling. This will give you a clear picture of your week to come and help you plan more effectively.

Stay one step ahead and be prepared

Finally, with a clear understanding of the past week, plan for the week ahead. When scheduling tasks, keep your past week's review in mind. If you noticed that you tend to be more productive in the mornings, schedule your most challenging tasks then. If you found that certain tasks took longer than expected, give yourself a bit more time for similar tasks in the future.
Remember, staying organized is not about perfection; it's about making consistent progress. By reviewing your previous week and planning for the next, you'll be equipping yourself with the insights and preparation needed to manage your time effectively, stay organized, and ultimately succeed in college.


Just like a well-organized desk, a well-organized college life is a game-changer. It's the secret weapon that can turn mountains of academic stress into molehills, transforming the daunting task of juggling multiple responsibilities into a manageable daily routine. But remember, organization isn't about maintaining a spotless workspace or a picture-perfect planner; it's about finding a system that works for you and sticking to it.
The journey towards an organized life in college begins with understanding why it's important, and it doesn't stop there. It's about implementing tangible strategies, such as setting up a calendar, using to-do lists, sticking to a realistic schedule, and digitizing your notes with a tool like Traverse. It's about keeping your class materials tidy, maintaining a clean study space, preparing your tools for class, avoiding interruptions when studying, and preparing for the next day.
But perhaps most importantly, staying organized in college is about continually reflecting on your practices and planning for the future. Take time each week to review your progress and plan for the week ahead. Just as Traverse founder Dominic Zijlstra used the platform to master over 3000 Chinese characters, you too can use these organizational strategies to master the art of balancing college life.
So as you face the challenges and opportunities that come with being a college student, remember: staying organized is your secret weapon. It's the key that unlocks the door to less stress, higher academic success, and the development of skills that will serve you well beyond your college years.
Incorporate these tips into your routine, equip yourself with effective tools like Traverse, and you'll not only survive the college experience, but thrive in it. Here's to turning your dreams into reality, one organized step at a time.
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